20th Dec2019

‘Deep Blue’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail


Days of Wonder is a well known brand when it comes to creating extremely attractive and highly accessible board games that offer a gateway level experience whilst still introducing players to some of the more complex mechanics that appear in other games. Memoir ’44, Small World and Quadropolis are just a few games released by Days of Wonder, but the most famous by far is probably Ticket to Ride. Today’s review is for the latest Days of Wonder game, Deep Blue, which is the first push your luck game that they have produced, at least to my knowledge.

What makes Deep Blue perhaps even more exciting is the design partnership that created it, with the exciting duo of Asger Harding Granerud and Daniel Skjold Pedersen, a pair that have collective responsibility for games as exciting as Flamme Rouge and Copenhagen. As always with a Days of Wonder product, Deep Blue is a beautiful game that, frankly, has jaw dropping production value relative to its cost. Somehow these guys always seem to nail it, and Deep Blue just has that certain something – a gorgeous board, thick tiles, great card art and loads of detailed plastic pieces.

Each player takes control of two dive teams associated with a single boat, and each boat has a name, colour and deck of cards associated with it, as well as a player board. Deep Blue supports between two and five players, and the main focus is on obtaining treasure and riches through wreck diving, with the winner being the player who has scored the most points when all four of the lost city tiles have been found. As you can probably imagine from a push your luck game however, there is risk as well as reward.

The game begins with a number of randomly placed dive location tokens that will be located face down all over the board. On their turn, a player will play one or more cards to take a single action – either hire crew (by discarding cards and then buying a card up to the value shown on those cards) moving (by discarding cards with propellers on) or calling a dive. When a dive is called, the player must choose a dive location at which they have a boat already, allowing other players in adjacent spaces to join their dive by moving their boats onto the same space.

Each dive location has between one and three scouting locations on it, and as a player enters the space during normal movement, they may choose one to land on. These locations give the player the depicted bonus during the dive – so for example they might have more oxygen, better defense against calamity or a bonus when searching for certain treasure. Players who move into the space when a dive is called are effectively “rushing” to join the dive, and so they move to the middle of the tile and do not receive a scouting bonus.

The movement and recruitment actions are very straightforward, with the player who is performing the action simply moving their two ships a number of spaces equal to the amount of propellers on the cards discarded. Hiring staff is exactly the same – the player will discard cards marked with a total of three dollars, for example, and then take one of the face up crew cards from the side of the board, up to a value of three dollars. This crew member goes directly to their hand, and can then be played like any other card. When a player runs out of cards, they simply reshuffle their deck and begin again.

Diving is where most of the compelling gameplay comes from in Deep Blue, and it’s really nice that the rushing in mechanic is included, since it regularly encourages the players to participate in dives. Not everyone will be able to jump into every dive (in most games) but each dive should have enough participants that it has the full engagement of the table. When the dive begins, the interesting bit is that only the person who called the dive (the Dive Leader) will be able to affect the progress of the dive – a factor that leads to much booing, cheering and cajoling around the table.

To explain this a little more, each dive involves drawing gems from a bag. The game begins with a number of gems already present, as well as some that occupy a space on the board. As new crew cards come into play, gems may be taken from the board and added into the bag. This means that as the game progresses there will always be a flow of new gems. Ultimately, the gems might be gold, silver, black, blue, red, purple or green, and each has a different meaning and a value depending on what you can do with it.

The dive leader will begin by drawing gems one at a time and placing them onto the dive board. With gold and silver, the players present in the dive simply gain points, but each blue and black gem represents a problem with their oxygen or a hazard respectively. Any diver can withstand one of each of these threats, but if a second of either kind is drawn, any player who cannot discard a card that has the matching symbol (indicating that a crew member has dealt with the problem) will have to surface – losing all their treasure.

Ultimately, only the Dive Leader can decide when to stop, and they may simply decide to keep going even if it means other divers will be doomed. This is the factor that causes most ruckus, because each player will have different things to deal with. A player might have scouted a space that gives them extra oxygen and they may also have an oxygen card, in which case they might encourage the captain to keep drawing after the first blue gem, but another player might be ready to defend against black gems, or worse still, nothing.

The red and green gems represent artefacts and occult items respectively, and they only score points if a player can place a card that shows a specialist crew member who can deal with such an object. When they do so (or if they play a crew member who gives a gold or silver bonus) then those points will be safe, regardless of if they ultimately have to surface or not. In such an example, the player would score points for the card they played and whatever it does, but they would not score points for the dive in general.

The players then repeat the process of moving around the board, uncovering dive locations and then diving at them, all the while expanding their hand with new cards that give them ever more options for how to score points and/or mitigate disaster. Striking the balance between recruitment and treasure hunting is one of Deep Blue‘s joys, as is the race to get the best spaces on each tile and to lead dives. I will mention that there is nothing to scale the game for different player counts, so there is the issue that the board can be quite empty at just two players (resulting in solo dives) whilst at four players there should never have a solo dive.

Whilst I’d have liked to see some scaling in the form of fewer tiles or a different board layout on the back (for example) or maybe more boats per player at lower counts, I can’t complain too much about this aspect of the game, it simply makes the experience different. Personally, I also enjoy the push your luck gameplay of drawing from the bag, which has a different level of excitement and expectation associated with it depending on whether you are the dive leader or not. One nice part of the way dives work is that you never really lose anything from joining a dive, but you may simply gain nothing – and so no one feels unduly wronged.

Overall, I really enjoy Deep Blue and I am pleased to have another Days of Wonder game to add to my collection of relatively light, thematic games that can be played by almost anyone. Deep Blue is a little more complex than most gateway games when you read about it from the manual, but in truth it plays in a really straightforward way and is very simple to teach and pick up. It’s also a very attractive game, both sitting on the shelf and especially when laid out on the table, so all in all there’s a lot to recommend here.

**** 4/5

Deep Blue is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator


Comments are closed.